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A sliced Burnt Almond Cake  on a cake stand with two slices on plates below
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4.66 from 44 votes

Burnt Almond Cake

A Burnt Almond Cake is a rustic-looking layer cake, filled with almond pastry cream, slathered in the BEST Swiss meringue buttercream frosting, then covered in candied almonds.  It's famous in San Jose and is a favorite for those of us from the California Bay Area. 
Prep Time1 hr 30 mins
Cook Time35 mins
Additional Time3 hrs
Total Time5 hrs 5 mins
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Servings: 14 people
Calories: 792kcal
Author: Amy Nash


Vanilla Almond Cake

  • 4 egg whites room temperature
  • 1 large egg room temperature
  • 1 cup buttermilk room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ teaspoons almond extract
  • 2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • 7 Tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 ¾ cups granulated sugar
  • 1 ½ Tablespoons baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 12 Tablespoons butter cubed, room temperature

Almond Pastry Cream

  • 1 ½ cups whole milk
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • ½ cup sugar divided
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3 Tablespoons cornstarch
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 2 Tablespoons butter cubed
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon almond extract

Swiss Meringue Buttercream

  • 5 egg whites room temperature
  • 1 ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 ½ cups butter room temperature, cubed
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Caramelized Almonds

  • 1 ½ cups 6 ounces sliced almonds
  • 2 Tablespoons water
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 Tablespoon butter


Vanilla Almond Cake

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lin the bottoms of two 8-inch round baking pans with parchment paper and spray with nonstick cooking spray.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg whites (save the yolks for the pastry cream!), egg, buttermilk, vanilla, and almond extract, then set aside.
  • In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the flour, cornstarch, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  Add the butter one piece at a time, while the mixer is running on low speed, waiting 10 seconds between each addition.
  • Once all the butter is added, pour in the buttermilk and egg mixture in 3 batches, mixing on medium-low speed between each addition for about 1 minute and scraping the sides of the bowl. The batter should be light and fluffy. Once all of the liquid has been added, scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl well and mix for another 20 to 30 seconds.
  • Divide the batter evenly between the pans, then bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the middle of the cakes comes out clean with just a few crumbs attached.  Cool for 10 minutes before inverting the cakes onto cooling racks and removing the parchment paper from the bottoms. Flip the cakes back over and cool completely on the wire racks.
  • Level the tops of the cakes, then slice in half horizontally and wrap each cake layer with plastic wrap and chilling in the freezer for at least an hour before frosting.

Almond Pastry Cream

  • In a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat, combine the milk, cream, and half of the sugar, stirring occasionally until the liquid comes to a simmer.  Meanwhile, whisk together the remaining sugar, salt, cornstarch, and egg yolks in a medium bowl until light and creamy.
  • Once the milk mixture is hot, slowly whisk 1 cup of the hot liquid into the egg mixture to temper the yolks. Pour the tempered egg mixture back into the saucepan with the hot milk mixture and reduce the heat to medium, continuing to cook while whisking constantly for about 30-60 seconds, until thickened and a few bubbles burst on the surface.
  • Remove the pastry cream from the heat and whisk in the butter, vanilla, and almond extract, then transfer to a bowl and cover with a piece of plastic wrap placed directly onto the surface of the pastry cream so a skin doesn't form. Refrigerate until chilled and firm, about 3 hours.  

Swiss Meringue Buttercream

  • Combine the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer set over a pan of simmering water.  Be careful not to let the bowl touch the water.  Whisk until sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are hot (between 140-160 degrees F is enough to kill any bacteria in the egg whites and dissolve the sugar). 
  • Transfer the bowl on the stand mixer and whip the sugar and egg whites on high using the whisk attachment until thick and glossy, forming stiff peak and the bowl feels room temperature to the touch, which can take anywhere from 10-20 minutes.  The stiff peaks will form fairly quickly, but just let the mixer keep working to help bring the temperature of the meringue down.  This can be done with a hand mixer, but it's much easier with a stand version.
  • Once the bowl is no longer warm to the touch, decrease the speed to medium-low and add the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until smooth after each addition.  Once all of the butter has been beaten in to the meringue, mix in the vanilla and almond extracts and salt. 
  • If the frosting looks curdled or clumpy, increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat until smooth.  Or if the frosting is too runny and thin, stick it in the fridge for 10 minutes to help it set up a bit, then whip it again.  This is a problem I've encountered because I didn't let my meringue cool down enough before adding the butter, but the fridge fix worked great. 

Caramelized Almonds

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Cover a baking sheet with foil and spray it with nonstick cooking spray.  Pour the nuts onto the baking sheet in an even layer and toast them in the oven while you prepare the caramel.  Be careful to watch them so they don't actually burn.  They should just start to turn a light, toasty brown and smell nutty.
  • Combine the water, sugar, lemon juice, and salt in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring just until the sugar dissolves.  Insert a candy thermometer and let the mixture boil without stirring until it reaches 310 degrees F, then remove from the heat and stir in the butter and toasted almonds immediately.  
  • Pour the caramelized nuts back onto the foil-lined baking sheet and use a spatula to spread them into as thin a layer as possible, trying not to have too many overlapping nuts.  Cool completely, then break apart, chopping large chunks if necessary.

Assembling the Burnt Almond Cake

  • Place the bottom layer of cake on a cake stand and pipe a ring of the Swiss meringue buttercream around the edge to create a barrier for holding in the pastry cream.  Scoop ⅓ of the pastry cream onto the cake and spread it out to fill in the space inside the ring of buttercream.  Repeat with the remaining cake and pastry cream to create a 4-layer cake with 3 layers of pastry cream.  
  • Frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining Swiss meringue buttercream.  Press the almonds into the sides of the cake, letting excess almonds fall back onto the baking sheet below so they can be reused on top.  Fill in gaps as needed with the almonds that fell off until the sides and top of the cake are covered.  


You can make the cake, pastry cream, and buttercream in advance, then make the caramelized almonds and assemble the cake the day you want to serve it.
If you are making the cake more than 2-3 days in advance, double wrap them in plastic wrap, then wrap in foil and seal in a freezer-safe ziptight bag.  
This cake can be stored on the counter for a few days, or in the refrigerator.  If stored in the fridge, bring to room temperature before serving.
Recipe inspired by Sugar Hero.


Calories: 792kcal | Carbohydrates: 91g | Protein: 10g | Fat: 44g | Saturated Fat: 24g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g | Monounsaturated Fat: 14g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 182mg | Sodium: 740mg | Potassium: 229mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 64g | Vitamin A: 1288IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 187mg | Iron: 2mg